Thursday, July 28, 2016

Palo Colorado Canyon now a Paradise Lost ?

Previously I've over the years visited this secret place and only a couple of years ago wrote about it. But Recent Wildfire events in California (this is the latest 'New Abnormal') have brought live to the area to ashes. Here are my previous posts. The first one is about the joy of being able to show my Swedish wife who has never seen the Redwoods of NoCal a little private hideaway slice of giant Redwood Groves. Honestly, other than locals up this way, most tourist and most resident Californians in general no nothing of this hidden gem. That has always been the beauty of this pristine area. That's all changed now. First, ere is what I previously written about Palo Colorado Canyon.
Palo Colorado Canyon Rd, Big Sur California
My other article dealt with the extreme California Drought designation label given specifically to Central California's Coast where extremely low rainfall amounts over the past five years have left most streams and rivers as dry creeks, washes and floodplains. But not here. Why ? Because of the ideal location for fogbelt influence which acquires another type of precipitation normally overlooked. Because of this, streams and rivers still run here. There is also the natural phenomena of "Hydraulic Descent" which almost no one mentions anymore. This is a large part of why these streams still ran to the Pacific Ocean.
Why Streams still flow in California's officially designated "Exceptional Drought" zone
Now, fastforward to the Soberanes Wildfire

Image - David Royal, Monterey County Hreald via A.P.

The above photo is from the Soberanes wildfire burning above a home in Palo Colorado Canyon in Big Sur, Calif., Sunday July 24, 2016. Thousands of homes remained evacuated Sunday as California's two massive wildfires raged in tinder-dry vegetated hills and canyons. As of July 28, about 57 homes have been destroyed and other buildings.

July 24, 2016 - Infrared Imaging Map by

Keep checking the link above from the reference link I've posted below as the fire is rapidly expanding. I started this post on the 24th and change is happening rapidly.

Night Image by Caitlan Conrad - KSBW

MODIS map of Soberanes Fire - Big Sur Kate - (blue line is Sunday July 25, 2016  Fire Border)

As I've previously posted before back in July 2014 in my Palo Colorado Canyon post, this canyon and beyond is no stranger to wildfire as you can see below of the California Coast Redwood trees with charred bark. The further inland you drive to the east, the hotter the climate becomes. The area is dense wilderness and very few roads. Many of those roads can be death traps as there is very little way out of dead end trails.

Image is Mine from July 2014 (Palo Colorado Canyon Road)

CalFire engine trucks now move into the interior where fire fighting will be tougher, if not imporrible. Air (Plane/Helicopter) and Hand Crews will be the main means of fighting this basically roadless area. That was always the beauty of this area as it is mostly uninhabited. The main thrust of the fire now appears to be heading east and mainly south into the Los Padres National Forest where much of that has now been closed off to any visitors.

Image by KSBW - Caitlan Conrad

Image - David Royal, Monterey Herald

You may have to click on the above image and make it larger. Notice the non-native Sea Fig these fire fighters are strip removing ? Mostly likely on the steep coastal slope side down to the Coast Highway. I'm curious as to how many of these firefighters will acquire poison oak breakouts. For those familiar with this steep coastal environment right down to the Pacific Ocean, the predominant plant here is low growing poison oak. I saw this back in 2014 the last time my wife and I went through here. We stopped periodically to take photos from off the roadway and it's an obstacle and maze of trails through poison oak. Along with poison oak, the other dense invasive I saw were small non-native Pampas Grass everywhere. The stuff is literally everywhere folks. Keep an eye out if in this area. On every single steep treeless slope along the coastal highway there is one solide mass of poison oak from Carmel all the way to Cambria.

Image by Lucus Gillman - Big Sur, California
San Luis Obispo News: "Climate change is making poison oak stronger"

Image - David Royal, Montery Herald

The image above in the northern part of the fire and also these next two Bulldozer photos are on Mescal Ridge are sad to see. The damage these machines cause can last for centuries as scars on the landscape, aside from the immediate microbiological damage where the absence will make it tougher for shrubs and trees to come back. It will better help non-native invasives to establish and grab a permanent foothold. What's worse is that the fire retardant all along those fire perimeter areas are going to help encourage & fertilize the non-native ruderals and hinder perennial and chaparral shrub regrowth. But I'm actually surprised by the one at the top wheere you can clearly see the fire has been stopped by the plane drops of retardant and only small areas of white smake are present. Clearly instead of damaging this ridge and creating a large fire break, I would think Hand Crews could do a less damaging job in putting out the smoldering shrubs and perhaps water drops.

Image provided by Michael Troutman & Big Sur Kate

This link will be of interest to some. This is an operations map showing where bulldozer firebreaks have thus far been constructed and where they are proposed in the future should the fire breach the others. Which it has multiple times.
Soberanes Fire Operations Map

Image provided by Michael Troutman & Big Sur Kate

July 28, 2016 Update: Some Sad News 
Firefighter killed in dozer accident on Soberanes fire & another dozer operator injured in similar scenario
"The operator of a bulldozer was killed while working on the Soberanes fire, one of two major wildfires burning in California and one that has already destroyed 20 homes."
 ------------------------------------------------------------------ - Bulldozer operator killed fighting California blaze 
"Another operator escaped injury when a second bulldozer rolled over and sustained minor damage, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection."   
"Battalion Chief Robert Fish said the operator was working in steep and difficult-to-access terrain when the accident occurred. Fish did not have further details about the incident but said 60 bulldozers were being used in the fight against the fire." - Bulldozer operator killed fighting California blaze
 Climate Change Extreme Drought - Beetle Killed Trees - Disease/Pathogens - Fire & Flood Apocalypse ?
 There is a plethora of life degrading events which have effected all of Earth's ecosystems everywhere. Certainly this region which is at the heart of Extreme Drought conditions, actually being designated, "Exceptional Drought Zone" by the US Government just last year. There has been a domino effect of sorts. Extreme drought followed by beetles & pathogen kill of forest trees has made this fire move much easier than it's normal previous marine moisture ecology of the past.  
Millions of dead/dying trees have nothing to do with Climate Change ???

Photo Credits - Dave Rizzo, UC Davis (2005)

Millions upon Millions of dead and dying trees and there is no Climate Change ? Of course some acknowledge there is a climate change happening, but insist it has no human cause. It's not just conifers folks, it's also oaks and other shrubs which are taking the hit here regarding diseases and pathogens.

Photo Credit - Karl Buermeyer, COMTF (2003)

Susan Frankel, USDA-Forest Service
The image above and at right are of dead (Tanoaks - Notholithocarpus densiflorus) along Big Sur highway, Monterey County, California. I know no one wants to talk about dead forest trees causing wildfire to worsen, but hey, this is the "New Abnormal" , remember ??? Like those millions of dead Ponderosa Pines and Fir trees over on the eastern border of California, these trees are helping to spread the wildfire in a region which is traditionally Marine Air influenced by moiture. Sadly, this is a part of that major plague in California called Sudden Oak Death. Also remember that this area has been designated in all the drought maps as Extreme Drought Condition. The worst hit from Climate Change of anywhere throughout all of California. This is about all I'll write on this for the moment. You can follow the other links below and perhaps I'll provide periodic updates here from time to time.
Update August 1, 2016
 (David Royal - Monterey Herald)

This photo shows Cal Fire firefighters keeping a lookout from Sky Ranch off Cachagua Grade as smoke and flames from a back burn light up a ridge to the south as firefighters battle the Soberanes Fire in east Carmel Valley on Monday August 1, 2016. Even though the photo is hazy, can anybody see the numerous dry dead oak trees within this forest canopy ? All vegetation, living green or dead brown will burn. But it's the dead material which allows the wildfire to move faster and gain more ground. And that's exactly what this fire has done.
Soberanes Wildfire Tracking Website Links
KSBW: Soberanes Fire prompts evacuation order for Rancho San Carlos
Central California Coastal Ecology and Wildfire History
Mid-Coast Fire Brigade: 'Area Fire History'
Garrapata Creek Watershed Council & Watershed Assessment
USGS: "Prescribed fires do not reduce future area burned in central and southern California
California Chaparral Institute: "Fire, Chaparral and Survival in Southern California"
California Chaparral Institute: "PROTECTING YOUR HOME FROM FIRE"

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